By Shashank Kishore in Sylhet
Defending champion must do all the running in key ICC Women’s World T20 clash with Mignon du Preez conceding her team is the underdog
Dane van Niekerk is just 20 years old, but she already has five years of international experience. In that time, she's seamlessly transformed from being a bowling all-rounder to an aggressive batter, who can chip in with a few overs when needed. The change in dynamics has been brought about by a conscious decision by the South African think tank to explore every possibility before narrowing in on a settled combination.
It was a tactic that worked instantly as South Africa Women registered a comprehensive win over Pakistan Women in its opening fixture on Sunday. Van Niekerk and Lizelle Lee put on 163 unbeaten runs for the opening wicket in a display of total domination that was later capped by the bowlers in style. It was a performance that brought to the fore a fearless approach on the part of the South Africans not seen before.
Ahead of South Africa’s second Group A fixture against Australia Women on Tuesday (March 25), Mignon du Preez, the captain, was happy to concede her team was the underdog. Indeed, Australia must do all the running, the defending champion coming off a narrow loss to New Zealand Women. Another slip up could put it under the cloud of relegation even before the tournament reaches the halfway mark.
Meg Lanning, the Australia captain, hinted at the possibility of exploring her slow bowling options on what she felt were pitches that would crumble as the tournament progressed. It's an attack that traditionally relies heavily on its seamers – Holly Ferling, Ellyse Perry and Sarah Coyte have all tasted tremendous success in England and Australia, on pitches that suit their style, but the slow and low nature of the Sylhet pitch will prove to be a challenge worth watching.
Australia will also have to find a way of overcoming the void left by Jodie Fields. Although Alyssa Healy is an able wicketkeeper, her temperament with the bat will be tested yet again. Lanning and Jess Cameron are aggressive batters, but whether they temper their game to suit the situation is a question they have to answer.
Elsewhere, Ellyse Villani's place at the top could come under scrutiny if the team wishes to play an extra spinner. Villani was out for a duck trying to slog across the line in the second over of Australia's innings in the first game chasing a total that warranted a degree of caution and not all-out aggression.
Meanwhile, South Africa's middle order was restricted to watching from the sidelines as the openers stole the show against Pakistan, and will have to get into their groove quickly when they're pressed into service at some stage against Australia.
In Marizanne Kapp and Trisha Chetty, South Africa has two reliable batters with sufficient experience at the top level. Shandre Fritz normally plays the role of an anchor, while du Preez’s role in the middle order cannot be understated. The bowling attack poses enough variety, but their ability against a top-class unit has not been tested yet.
What both teams may need to keep in hand at all times, though, is the Duckworth-Lewis calculation sheet, as rain is a distinct possibility over the next couple of days. Rain missed Sylhet on Monday, but locals believe it seldom does so given a second run. If it does stay away though, one can be assured of wholesome entertainment from two sides – one bruised and the other on a high – trying to prove a point.
South Africa: Mignon du Preez (capt), Trisha Chetty (wk), Shandre Fritz, Moseline Daniels, Marizanne Kapp, Lizelle Lee, Shabnim Ismal. Marcia Letsoalo, Sunette Loubser, Sune Luus, Nadine Moodley, Chloe Tyron, Dane van Niekerk, Yolandi van der Westhuzien, Andrie Steyn.
Australia: Meg Lanning (capt), Alex Blackwell, Alyssa Healy (wk), Nicole Bolton, Jess Cameron, Sarah Coyte, Rene Farrell, Holly Ferling, Ellyse Perry, Julie Hunter, Jess Jonassen, Beth Mooney, Delissa Kimmince.